January 9 – Dutchman Pim Verbeek has forged a managerial career in Asia and, with his latest team, Oman, has had immediate success with their surprise win at the Gulf Cup last year. Expectations are high for the Asian Cup. He spoke to Samindra Kunti
In 2015 Pim Verbeeck, Oman’s current coach and then pundit for Fox Sports at the Asian Cup in Australia, watched on from the stands as Oman finished third in a group with the hosts, South Korea and Kuwait.
That failure to qualify is not something that haunts Verbeek or his current Omani squad as they prepare to make their competition entrance today in Sharjah against Uzbekistan.
“I have got a totally different squad,” Verbeeck told Insideworldfootball. “Just two players from that team remain. There has been development and I think that with four points you can qualify for the knockout stages. That’s what we are aiming for at the Asian Cup.”
In December 2017 Verbeeck was appointed coach of Oman. He has previously coached the Socceroos at the 2006 World Cup and South Korea at the 2007 Asian Cup.
He immediately propelled Oman to silverware at the Gulf Cup. The Omanis conceded just a single goal in the tournament as they triumphed on penalties against the United Arab Emirates in the final last January. In the group stages a brace from striker Said Salim Al-Ruzaiqi helped Oman to a 2-0 win over Saudi Arabia.
“We had to win against Saudi Arabia, but we were in form,” recalls Verbeeck. “There was no other way. Saudi Arabia has a league that far outstrips ours. They have players who play abroad and foreign coaches in their domestic league. In Oman, they are looked up to. True, Saudi Arabia had a lot of youngsters in their team, but it was a big result that gave us confidence for the semi-finals and the final. We deservedly won the Gulf Cup. In hindsight, it was an excellent tournament for us.”
Oman may have punched above their weight at the Gulf Cup, but the victory offered Verbeeck a stepping stone to improve his team. The 62-year old, however, realises that the Asian Cup is of a different level and magnitude all together.
“It is a few steps up the ladder,” he said. “We have to progress to be successful in the Asian Cup. We have confidence and are a team that is difficult to beat. Oman have never progressed from the group stages and that is a nice target.”
Verbeeck’s team is built around a solid defense, but has struggled up front. In the Gulf Cup they scored just four goals in five matches and in the 2018 calendar year Oman registered just nine goals in eleven matches. “I have always tried and tested my team, mixing up the line-ups,” explained Verbeeck. “That has been a choice.”
“The Philippines surprised us in a friendly with players of 1.80 metres, who plied their trade in Europe. Ecuador was of a different calibre. It showed that they are used to playing against the big countries. It’s a feisty opponent with quality. Jordan is one of the better countries in the Middle East. Syria is strong: technically good, physically good, but you can learn from that. All these games were interesting. We want to score more, but you need to create more chances to do so. That is not so easy.”
Oman will face formidable opposition in the Asian Cup, taking on four-time champions Japan, as well as central Asian heavyweights Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in Group F. In the new 24-team format of the tournament the top two teams in each group and the four best third-placed teams will progress to the round of 16.
“I assess our group and Japan and Uzbekistan, in normal circumstances, are better than us, so you look at how to adapt against them,” admitted Verbeeck.
“Japanese players play in England, Germany, Spain and Italy. That tells you all you need to know. My players play in the second division of both Saudi Arabia and Qatar. We need a top day against Japan. Uzbekistan are very well organised. Their football resembles the Russian game. They play against big countries in the World Cup qualifiers. Turkmenistan are the unknown, but let’s hope that that last group game is a decider.”
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1634711968labto1634711968ofdlr1634711968owedi1634711968sni@o1634711968fni1634711968